Entries in Riddle, Clive (313)


Two Reports on Cost Driven Deferred Medical Care

By Clive Riddle

Two reports were published this week on deferred medical care driven by cost considerations, based on survey findings. Earnin’s report: Waiting to Feel Better: Survey Reveals Cost Delays Timely Care is based on two surveys – a commissioned online Harris Poll among over 2,000 U.S. adults and an Earnin poll of their users, “many of which live paycheck to paycheck.” AccessOne’s report: AccessOne Patient Finance Survey- Analysis on how healthcare costs impact is based on a survey conducted by ORC International of 693 people with at least $35,000 in annual household income, weighted by age, sex, geographic region, race and education.

Earnin tells that 54% of Americans “have delayed medical care for themselves in the past 12 months because they could not afford it, “ with the top three most delayed types of care being dental/orthodontic work (55%), eye care (43%), and annual exams (30%.) Earnin reports that “23 percen) have put off getting medical care for more than one year because they could not afford it. Among those whose household is living paycheck to paycheck or not making enough to get by, the rate of this extremely delayed care averages 36 percent. Nearly half of Americans (49 percent) say their health tends to take a back seat to other financial obligations.”


AccessOne reports that “Twenty-seven percent of households with children are likely to delay care because they can’t afford to pay for it.” Focusing on the dollar amounts involved and financing issues, they tell us that
  • 21% of families who had trouble paying their medical bill reported that their accounts had been sent to collections.
  • More than half of respondents were concerned about their ability to pay a medical bill of less than $1,000; with 35 percent being concerned about paying a bill that totals less than $500 – 20 times less than the average healthcare balance of a person in the U.S.
  • Only 21 percent of respondents said their healthcare providers have spoken to them about available patient financing options in the past two years.
  • Fifty-five percent of those surveyed said they prefer to discuss healthcare costs and financing options before care of service is delivered.
  • Fifty-four percent of those surveyed said they would use a no-interest financing option for a balance of $1,000 or less, and 57 percent said availability of a no-interest finance option is important or very important in evaluating a provider.
So if the AccessOne report implications bear out that improving financing options up front will reduce deferred medical care, the question is, will our younger generations that have had to assume much greater overall burden of college debt, also assume a growing burden of medical debt?



The State of BPCI

by Clive Riddle, October 12, 2018

CMS announced that “1,299 entities have signed agreements with the agency to participate in the Administration’s Bundled Payments for Care Improvement – Advanced (BPCI Advanced) Model.  The participating entities will receive bundled payments for certain episodes of care as an alternative to fee-for-service payments that reward only the volume of care delivered. The Model participants include 832 Acute Care Hospitals and 715 Physician Group Practices – a total of 1,547 Medicare providers and suppliers, located in 49 states plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico.”

CMS also reminds us that “BPCI Advanced qualifies as an Advanced Alternative Payment Model (Advanced APM) under MACRA, so participating providers can be exempted from the reporting requirements associated with the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS).”

CMS further explains these three differences between the new BPCI Advanced Model and the original BPCI Initiative that ended September 30, 2018:

  1. BPCI Advanced offers bundled payments for additional clinical episodes beyond those that were included in BPCI, including – for the first time – outpatient episodes.
  2. BPCI Advanced provides participants with preliminary target prices before the start of each model year to allow for more effective planning. The target prices are the amount CMS will pay for episodes of care under the model.
  3. BPCI Advanced qualifies as an Advanced APM.  Participating clinicians assume risk for patients’ healthcare costs and also meet other requirements including meeting quality thresholds, potentially qualifying them for incentive payments and exempting them from the MIPS program.

CMS has released results of its evaluation of the original BPCI Initiative, Models 2-4 for Years 1 -3 (through 12/31/2016.) CMS notes that “Model 2 episodes begin with a hospital admission and extend for up to 90 days; Model 3 episodes begin with the initiation of post acute care following a hospital admission and extend for up to 90 days; and Model 4 episodes begin with a hospital admission and continue for 30 days. The BPCI initiative rewards participants in Models 2 and 3 financially through reconciliation payments for reducing Medicare payments for an episode of care relative to a target price. Alternatively, when episode payments are higher than the target price, Awardees may have to pay amounts to CMS. Under Model 4, Medicare makes a prospective payment for the episode, so Awardees keep the difference if their costs are below the prospective payment.”

Of all participants, 22% of Model 2, 33% of Model 3, and 78% of Model 4 participants withdrew from the initiative.

CMS evaluation is based on the 169-page study just released by the Lewin Group: CMS Bundled Payments for Care Improvement Initiative Models 2­4: Year 5 Evaluation &  Monitoring Annual Report. Their findings included:

  • While BPCI was associated with a decline in episode payments, after considering the reconciliation payments made to participants, BPCI did not result in savings to the Medicare program.
  • Across the 67 Model- participant- and clinical episode-combinations analyzed in this report, payments declined for 50 and the change was statistically significant for 27.
  • The average Model 2 episode initiator (EI) participated in eight clinical episodes, and the most commonly selected clinical episode was MJRLE. BPCI Model 2 accounted for nearly 90% of the approximately 796,000 episodes initiated during the first 13 quarters of the initiative.
  • Episode volume was lower than in Model 2. Skilled nursing facility (SNF) EIs were most likely to participate in MJRLE, where they initiated over 9,600 episodes during the first 13 quarters of the initiative. Congestive heart failure (CHF) had the greatest enrollment of home health agency (HHA) EIs and the largest patient volume, exceeding 4,800 episodes during the same period.
  • Participation in Model 4 continued to wane in the third year of the initiative. Only five hospitals participated in Model 4 in 2017 and another three Model 4 hospitals transitioned to Model 2 rather than withdraw entirely from the initiative. At the peak of enrollment, 23 episode-initiating hospitals participated in Model 4. A total of 13,551 episodes, primarily for MJRLE, were initiated under the Model through December 2016.



Eighteen Things to Know from the 2018 KFF Employer Benefits Survey

By Clive Riddle, October 4, 2018


The Kaiser Family Foundation 2018 Employer Benefit Survey, an annual 200+ page definitive report of the state of employer health benefits since 1999, includes these eighteen things to know that KFF highlights:



  1.  On average, employees are contributing $5,547 toward the cost of family coverage, with employers paying the rest.
  2. Annual premiums for single coverage increased 3 percent to $6,896 this year, with employees contributing an average of $1,186.
  3. This year’s premium increases are comparable to the rise in employees’ wages (2.6%) and inflation (2.5%) during the same period. 
  4. Since 2008, average family premiums have increased 55 percent, twice as fast as employees’ earnings (26%) and three times as fast as inflation (17%).
  5. Currently 85% of covered employees have a deductible in their plan, up from 81% last year and 59% a decade ago. 
  6. The average single deductible now stands at $1,573 for those employees who have one, similar to last year’s $1,505 average but up sharply from $735 in 2008. 
  7. 26% of covered employees are now in plans with a deductible of at least $2,000, up from 22% last year and 15% five years ago. 
  8. Among covered employees at small firms (fewer than 200 employees), 42 percent face a deductible of at least $2,000.
  9. 57% of employers offer health benefits, the same as five years ago. 
  10. Some employers that offer health benefits provide financial incentives to employees who don’t enroll – either for enrolling in a spouse’s plan (13%) or otherwise opting out (16%).
  11. Overall 10% of all offering firms – and 24% of large ones – expect fewer employees and dependents to enroll because of the elimination of the ACA tax penalty.
  12. 21% of large firms report they collect some information from employees’ mobile apps or wearable devices as part of their wellness or health promotion programs (14% last year.)
  13. Most large offering employers (70%) provide employees with opportunities to complete health risk assessments.
  14. 38% of large offering firms provide incentives for employees to participate in wellness programs.
  15. 29% of firms that offer health benefits offer a high-deductible health plan with a savings option. 
  16. 61% of firms offering HDHPs only this type of plan to at least some of their employees. Overall, 29% of covered employees are enrolled in such plans.
  17. 74% of large firms (200+ employees) cover services provided through telemedicine, up from 63% last year and 27% in 2015. 
  18. 76% of large firms cover services received in retail clinics.





NCQA Health Plan Ratings: What About the 25% With No Rating?

By Clive Riddle, September 28, 2018

NCQA has released its 2018-2019 Health Insurance Plan Ratings. The ratings are a key tool used by stakeholders in evaluating health plans. NCQA tells us they “studied nearly 1,500 health plans and rated 1,040: 445 private (commercial), 418 Medicare and 177 Medicaid” and that “of the 1,040 rated plans, 85 (8%) received a top rating of 4.5 or 5.0 out of 5. Twenty-five (2%) earned the ratings of 1.0 to 2.0.”

The ratings website is searchable by plan type, state, or plan name and can be sorted by ratings (rated on a scale of 1.0 to 5.0). What isn’t readily available is a summary of the number of plans by each rating category, so we compiled one:

What struck us was the 25% of plans studied that aren’t rated. If you’re a plan that likely would get a rating below 3.0, wouldn’t you be motivated to avoid being rated at all? So let’s look at the ratings methodology.  Here’s a summary of NCQA health plan rating methodology, provided by NCQA

“Health plans are rated in three categories: private plans in which people enroll through work or on their own; plans that serve Medicare beneficiaries in the Medicare Advantage program (not supplemental plans); and plans that serve Medicaid beneficiaries. This year’s ratings do not include Marketplace plans because they have not developed sufficient data for analysis. NCQA ratings are based on three types of quality measures: measures of clinical quality from NCQA’s Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set (HEDIS®2); measures of consumer satisfaction using Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS®3); and results from NCQA’s review of a health plan’s health quality processes (performance on NCQA Accreditation standards). NCQA rates health plans that report quality information publicly.”

NCQA provides this explanation of plans listed as having partial data:

“Plans with partial data do not receive a rating, but NCQA lists them in the ratings and shows their scores on the measures they report. A plan is considered to have partial data if it: Submits HEDIS and CAHPS measure data for public reporting, but has “missing values” (i.e., NA or NB) in more than 50 percent of the weight of measures used in the methodology. Plans that fall into this category receive an overall rating status of “Partial Data Reported” and their measure rates are displayed as “NC” (No Credit). Refer to HEDIS Volume 2: Technical Specifications for information about missing values. Submits HEDIS data for public reporting but does not submit CAHPS data, or vice versa. Plans that fall into this category receive an overall rating status of “Partial Data Reported” and their measure rates for the dataset they did not submit are displayed as “NC” (No Credit).  Earned NCQA Accreditation without HEDIS data (health plan accreditation standards only) and did not submit HEDIS or CAHPS data for public reporting. Plans that fall into this category receive an overall rating status of “Partial Data Reported” and their measure rates are displayed as “NC” (No Credit).”

NCQA provides this explanation of plans listed as having no data reported:

“Plans that submit results but do not report data publicly, or plans that report no HEDIS, CAHPS or accreditation information to NCQA, are given a rating status of “No Data Reported” and their measure rates are displayed as “NC” (No Credit). Plans that fall into this category and have fewer than 8,000 members are omitted—they are not rated and are not listed in displays related to ratings.”

Based on these explanations, there are plans that legitimately should not be rated. But some of these aren’t included in the above numbers of plans with partial or no data, such as plans with fewer than 8,000 members with no data reported, or Marketplace plans with not enough data history.

But what about the rest? Could there be plans that avoid full data reporting to avoid potentially low ratings? Certainly the small numbers of plans publicly singled out with 2.0 or lower ratings come across looking far worse that the large number of plans listed with partial data or no data reported.

Perhaps NCQA should come up with a way to make the listings of applicable partial or no data reported plans perceived in a more negative manner?


Post ACA Operating Margins: Health Systems and Health Plans

By Clive Riddle, September 14, 2018

Navigant this week released an eight-page report: Stiffening Headwinds Challenge Health Systems to Grow Smarter, that provides “an analysis of a three-year sample of the financial disclosures of 104 prominent health systems operating 47% of U.S. hospitals,” in which Navigant  “found broad-based and significant deterioration of operating earnings.”


Navigant reports that from 2015 to 2017:

  • The average operating margin decline for analyzed systems was 38.7%. Not-for-profit system margins fell 34%, while for-profit margins fell 39%.
  • 65% of systems experienced operating income declines totaling $6.8 billion, with the most significant reductions occurring in the U.S.’s fastest-growing regions: West/Southwest and South Central.
  • At the root of these declines were multiyear reductions in the rate of topline operating revenue growth, which fell from 7% (2015 to 2016) to only 5.5% (2016 to 2017), and a failure to contain expenses in line with revenue deterioration. 

Navigant cites these drivers of earnings deterioration:

  1. Weakening demand for such core hospital services as surgery and inpatient admissions, due in part to rising patient cost exposure from high-deductible health plans;
  2. Deteriorating collection rates for private accounts in non-ACA expansion states;
  3. Steady erosion in Medicare payment rates due to the ACA and the 2012 federal budget sequester; and
  4. Failure of health system value-based insurance contracts to deliver sufficient patient volume to offset steep upfront payer discounts and significant hospital population health investments.

Meanwhile on the other side of the post-ACA equation, Mark Farrah Associates this week “released an analysis brief providing insights into mid-year profitability for commercial and government lines of health insurance business. MFA compared second quarter, year-over-year profitability for the Individual, Employer-Group, Medicare and managed Medicaid segments.”

They found that:

  • At the end of second quarter 2018, the average medical expense ratio for the Individual segment was 70.8%, as compared to 77.2% the previous year.
  • Growth in premiums pushed the average medical expense ratio for the Employer-Group segment down to 80.9% for 2Q18 from 81.8% in 2Q17.
  • For Medicare Advantage, premium growth outpaced increases in medical expenses pushing the medical expense ratio down to 85.3% from 86.1% in 2Q17.
  • 2.9% increase in premiums per member per month pushed the medical expense ratio for Managed Medicaid down to 88.6% from 91.0% in 2Q17.

Mark Farrah Associates concludes the current outlook is better than the one Navigant finds for health systems: “At the mid-year point, all four health care segments are signifying improved profitability for health insurers over 2017.  The most significant change is once again in the Individual segment showing improvement over 2017, which ended up being a profitable year for the segment overall.  While this analysis of mid-year segment performance sheds light upon profitability trends for 2018, it’s a wait and see proposition until final financial results are revealed in spring of 2019.”